WILLY'S WORLD - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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WILLY'S WORLD

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ALTHOUGH BORN into basketball royalty—his mother, Margarita, played center for Spain in the 1992 Olympics and won a European championship in '93, and his father, Guillermo, was a 6'8" center who played for Real Madrid Baloncesto—Willy Hernangómez first fell in love with soccer. But a sudden growth spurt in his early teens turned him on to basketball, and he's never looked back. In his second season with the Knicks, the 6'11" Hernangómez, 23, will have to fight for minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but he's excited by the challenge. "I got used to pressure when I played in Madrid," he says. "Every day is something new."

ON NEW YORK CITY

It's an adventure to be here. It's a completely different culture from Europe. But there are a lot of Hispanics and Latinos here. When I walk in the streets, a lot of people say hello to me in Spanish, so that's made it really easy to get used to living in New York.

ON PLAYING IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

It's a big responsibility to play in the Mecca of basketball. Everybody wants to play here, and everybody wants to do their best against us. We have young players, and we're trying to get better.

ON SHARING HIS NBA JOURNEY WITH HIS BROTHER

Juancho [a 6'9" forward with the Nuggets] and I talk every day, usually when we're doing recovery stuff—"I'm in the hot tub" or "I'm getting a massage." We have a great relationship. We are more than brothers.

ON PAU AND MARC GASOL

Being friends with the Gasol brothers is something special. They helped me in practice every single day [during the European championships last summer]. They spent a lot of time with my brother and me, and gave us great advice about living in the U.S., dealing with road trips and taking care of your body in the NBA.

ON SPEAKING SPANISH WITH KRISTAPS PORZINGIS

Last year, during my first few weeks in New York, I was speaking Spanish with KP [who was Hernangómez's teammate in Seville in 2014--15]. It drove [veteran center] Kyle O'Quinn crazy. He said, "Rookie, if you speak Spanish one more time, you have to bring me my food for a week." I said, "Listen, my English is getting better every day, but I need to speak Spanish with KP!" Kyle was worried we were talking about him. I said, "We are talking about you!"

ON PLAYING AGAINST FELLOW SPANIARDS

One of the great things about the NBA is that there are so many Spanish players. We have one rule: Say I go to Utah; Ricky Rubio and I will go to dinner the night before, and he has to pay because it's his city. When they come to New York, I have to invite them out—and they come twice because they also play Brooklyn. By the way, New York is expensive!

ON SPAIN'S CHANCES IN THE FIFA WORLD CUP

We are going to win. [Defender] Sergio Ramos is a close friend, and he's my favorite player. Everyone in Spain loves him.

When I walk in the streets, a lot of people say hello to me in Spanish, so that's made it easy to get used to living in New York.